Our successful multicultural society is built on secure borders

May 20, 2016
Blog

I rejoice in the vibrant diversity of our migrant nation. I'm proud to lead a country that welcomes refugees from shattered, war-torn corners of the world.

And barely a day goes past when I don't celebrate that we are the most successful and harmonious multicultural nation in the world.

But we cannot be under any illusions about what our multicultural success is built upon. The reason Australians welcome high levels of immigration - the highest since the early postwar period - is that we have confidence that our government is in control of our immigration program, deciding who can come here and ensuring that when they do they receive the support needed to integrate into Australian societies.

We welcome 13,750 refugees a year - the world's third largest permanent refugee resettlement program - because our borders are secure.

Strong borders are the foundation of our high-immigration multicultural success.

This is not a hypothetical proposition. We've seen elsewhere what happens when nations lose control of their borders and fail to invest in the integration of migrants who arrive. We only have to look at recent events in Europe, where internal borders are nonexistent and external borders are difficult to manage.

And tragically, in our own country, we only have to look to the previous Labor government when a collapse of border security emboldened 50,000 individuals to entrust their lives to people smugglers.

Our opponents in the Labor Party and the Greens who promote more open borders cannot evade the awful consequences of the last time they tried this experiment. More than 1200 people drowned at sea. And they are the ones we know about.

When I was opposition leader I begged Kevin Rudd not to abandon the Howard government's border protection policy. But he did.

Kevin Rudd's party did not have a commitment to strong borders any more than Bill Shorten's party does today. This fundamental problem is on display as a divided Labor Party is again drawn towards a partnership with the Greens.

But those who trade in gesture politics, who claim a monopoly on empathy, have to face the natural consequences of the soft border policies they propose. There is nothing generous about policies that lead families to drown at sea. There is nothing humane about gestures that lead to young women, men and their children being placed in detention.

When the Howard government lost office in 2007 there was not one single child in detention. Within five years, the number of children who arrived by boat in detention peaked at nearly 2000.

Now, after three years of a Coalition government, that number is zero. There has not been a single unauthorised asylum seeker vessel arrive for more than 660 days.

Our borders are secure, the people smugglers have been thwarted and the families on whom they prey are not getting on leaky boats to come to Australia in what was a perilous and often fatal venture.

Australia has settled more than 850,000 refugees since World War II. They and their offspring have helped make us what we are. We cannot imagine modern Australia without their contribution.

But our refugee programs have not succeeded by accident. We make considerable investments in settlement services - teaching English and helping bridge what, for many, is a very difficult transition.

We are able to increase our annual refugee intake from 13,750 up to 18,750 by 2019 because we know we can support those additional numbers and just as importantly the community believes we can too.

And we are welcoming another 12,000 from the Syrian conflict zone, particularly persecuted minorities.

The observation by the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, that many refugees lack English skills and some lack literacy even in their own language is a statement of fact.

It is a reminder that having welcomed people to Australia we must ensure they have the support and the training to be able to succeed in our society.

These settlement services are costly, which we do not begrudge.

But we do believe our program with the calibrated increases that we propose - is the right size and is at a level we can support.

Secure borders and a well-managed migration system are the bedrock of confidence on which our successful multicultural society is built.

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